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Slugs leave trails, sheep leave droppings, bees make honey, and humans leave two things: art and garbage. Where these meet is called entertainment.

Robyn Hitchcock

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Saturday, October 8th, 2011

🦋 Road Trip

Ellen and I watched The Stone Raft (2002) tonight. A good, solid movie and a faithful adaptation of the book. It did not give me the sense of being in the presence of genius, as the book did; but then it also did not take weeks to watch. There is a lot of beauty in the movie and I would certainly recommend it. This book was half road trip/buddy story/love story, half weird unresolvable meandering about the metaphysical/​metahistorical status of Spain and Portugal; the team that turned it into a movie made the wise choice to focus on the more filmable aspects of the book. And the dog! What a sweet dog!

posted evening of October 8th, 2011: Respond
➳ More posts about José Saramago

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

🦋 A Stone Raft Sailing to Haïti

The Saramago Foundation announces that a new edition of The Stone Raft will be published, with all profits given to the Red Cross's relief efforts in Haïti.

Update: no, I misread that. The foundation is not donating all profits to the Red Cross, but rather "the entire 15€ purchase price of the book" -- rather more substantial a commitment.

posted morning of January 28th, 2010: Respond
➳ More posts about Saramago's Notebook

Monday, October 19th, 2009

🦋 Barefoot Portugal

Found it! -- Many thanks to Deborah for sending me Unamuno's poem "Portugal" (an unpublished fragment), from which the line quoted in The Stone Raft is taken.

Portugal, Portugal, tierra descalza,
acurrucada junta al mar, tu madre,
llorando soledades
de trágicos amores,
mientras tus pies desnudos las espumas
saladas bañan,
tu verde cabellera suelta al viento
-- cabellera de pinos rumorosos --
los codos descansando en las rodillas,
y la cara morena entre ambas palmas,
clavas tus ojos donde el sol se acuesta
solo en la mar inmensa,
y en el lento naufragio así meditas
de tus glorias de Oriente,
cantando fados quejumbrosa y lenta.

Portugal, Portugal, o barefoot land,
nestled by the sea, your mother,
weeping lonely
over tragic loves
while the salty foam
bathes your naked feet,
your green locks loose to the wind --
locks of whispering pines --
your elbows resting on your knees
and your dark face between your palms,
cast your eyes where the sun goes down
alone in the immense sea
and in this slow shipwreck reflect
on your Oriental glories,
singing fados, plaintive and slow.
(Not making any claims about the quality of this translation -- it is done on the fly. If you have any ideas about how it could be improved, feel free to mention them in the comments.) It's a pretty poem -- in his (engaging) essay on The Rivers of the Douro Valley in Literature, Antonio Garrosa Resina notes that Unamuno composed it during a visit to Oporto in 1907. I'm a little uncomfortable with the juxtaposition of "junta al mar, tu madre" in line 2 and "soledades" in line 3 -- I must be mistranslating this -- not sure what the (plural) "soledades" is referring to but it can't be (singular) Portugal, who is next to her mother the sea... maybe it's "weeping over tragic solitary loves." (Also: is the "slow shipwreck" the sunset? I think Portugal's glories being "Oriental" is a reference to the subject of The Stone Raft, the treaty which gives Portugal imperial dominion over all lands to the east of a particular longitude, Spain over lands to its west.)

Well: this brings up a question for me about Pontiero's translation in The Stone Raft. The context is that José and Joachim have just met Pedro and the three are having dinner, watching the news on TV where they see images of people standing on Portugal's beaches looking at the oncoming ocean. Let's look at the Portuguese and Pontiero's rendering together:
Agora ei-los ali, como Unamuno disse que estavam, la cara morena entre ambas palmas, clavas tus ojos donde el sol se acuesta solo en la mar imensa, todos os povos com o mar a poente fazem o mesmo, este é moreno, não há outra diferença, e navegou. There they are now, as Unamuno described them, his swarthy face cupped in the palms of his hands, Fix your eyes where the lonely sun sets in the immense sea, all nations with the sea to the west do the same, this race is swarthy, there is no other particularity, and it has sailed the seas.
I'm not going to argue with italicizing the quoted portion and capitalizing its first letter, I mean it's not in the original but it reads fine; but how could "la cara morena" possibly be understood as referring to Unamuno's face rather than as part of the quotation? This makes no sense at all to me -- it's an interesting image but it can't be the image intended in the original passage. Note how "moreno" is used again referring to the Portuguese race -- this is the only distinction between them and other peoples with the sea to the west. Here's my attempt at an improvement, relying heavily on Pontiero for a sense of the flow of the passage:

There they are now, as Unamuno described them, Your dark face between your palms, cast your eyes where the sun goes down alone in the immense sea, all peoples with the sea to the west do the same, this one is dark-skinned, there's no other distinction, and has sailed the seas.

posted evening of October 19th, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about Miguel de Unamuno

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

🦋 Lonely, immense

Here's a new line of attack for a problem that's been bugging me a little while; when I was reading The Stone Raft I was enchanted by the line, which Saramago attributes to Unamuno, "Fix your eyes where the lonely sun sets in the immense sea." Haven't had any luck figuring out where that line came from, if he's quoting an actual Unamuno poem -- I don't know what the Spanish being quoted (in Portuguese, and then translated) is, and the English does not seem to match up with any existing translations...

Tonight I had the thought, why not try writing something with that line as a starting point, and taking as read that it was from a poem of Unamuno's... A first try (and assuming this line of inquiry bears any fruit, some more updates as time passes) below the fold.

posted evening of October 18th, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about Readings

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

🦋 The Eighth of March

Saramago posts today about International Women's Day:

I've just been watching the TV news, demonstrations by women all over the world, and I'm asking myself one more time what disgraceful world this is, where half the population still has to take to the streets to demand what should be obvious to everyone...

They say that my greatest characters are women, and I believe this is correct. At times I think the women whom I've described are suggestions which I myself would like to follow. Perhaps they are just models, perhaps they do not exist, but one thing I am sure of: with them, chaos could never have established itself in this world, because they have always known the scale of the human being.

I'm not completely sure about the translation in that last paragraph; it sounds pretty stilted the way I have written it. Possibly this is true of the original as well -- "chaos could never have established itself in this world" strikes me as a very strange thing to say, when the world is fundamentally chaotic -- and I don't see Saramago's women as imposers of order on natural chaos. This may be a clue into Saramago's understanding of the universe; I could see a reading of The Stone Raft in which the world is understood as an inherently ordered structure, and the characters (male and female, but particularly Joana) are keyed in to this natural order in opposition to humanity's chaos. Alternately I could be mistranslating, always a possibility.

posted evening of March 8th, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about Translation

Saturday, January third, 2009

🦋 Holm Oak

Genesis 12: 5 Abram Tomó a Sarai su mujer, a Lot su sobrino y todos los bienes que Habían acumulado y a las personas que Habían adquirido en Harán; y partieron hacia la tierra de Canaán. Después llegaron a la tierra de Canaán, 6 y Abram Atravesó aquella tierra hasta la encina de Moré, en las inmediaciones de Siquem. Los cananeos estaban entonces en la tierra.
Interesting -- the KJV translation has "the plain of Moreh" at the text I've emphasized; RSV has "the oak of Moreh". But this Spanish translation is calling it "encina", which means "holm oak", more specific than either of these. Blue Letter Bible's concordance doesn't show "holm oak" occurring in any English translation. Now I'm wondering what the source term is -- is encina a common tree in Spain as oak is in England, and the reference is just to a generic tree?

I remember in The Stone Raft there were a couple of references to "holm oak", which I skipped over without really getting. I think Joana Carda's stick was described as being witch-hazel rather than "even" holm oak; I took this vaguely to be a way of minimizing how strong of a wood it was. Possibly a reference to this passage was intended here, though if the tree is common in Spain and Portugal, probably not.

A bit wrong -- "Holm oak" appears four times in The Stone Raft; the one I was thinking of is on p. 106:

Joana Carda responded with silence, after all, there is no law to prohibit guests from taking even a branch of holm oak into their room, much less a thin little stick, not even two meters long...
At the beginning of the book there is a suggestion that Joana's branch was elm, or possibly wych-elm.

posted morning of January third, 2009: 2 responses
➳ More posts about The Bible

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

🦋 Brazil

I have never given any thought to why Brazil is historically a Portuguese colony, when (almost) all the other states of South America are historically Spanish colonies. But perhaps it is because of the Treaty of Tordesilla, which specifies that lands west of the meridian halfway between the (Portuguese) Cape Verde islands and the West Indies shall be the territory of Spain, and lands east of this meridian shall be Portuguese. Brazil is the easternmost country of South America and much of it lies east of this meridian. (In The Stone Raft, the Iberian "peninsula" comes to rest "on the line that in those glorious days had divided the world into two parts, one for me, one for you, one for me." -- That's how I came to be finding out about it.)

Also here, we have a couple more direct textual references, to "Padre António Vieira's History of the Future and The Prophesies of Bandarra, as well as Pessoa's Mensagem, but that goes without saying."

...And, Roque Lozano has rejoined the story! Can Maria Dolores be far off?

Your questions are false if you already know the answer.

posted evening of December 23rd, 2008: 4 responses

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Do you believe in any of what you're saying, It's not a question of believing or not believing, everything we go on saying is added to what is, to what exists,... when I get to the end of what I'm saying, I have to believe in my having said it, that's often all that's needed, just as water, flour, and yeast make bread.
I read a lot more of The Stone Raft today and am pretty well cured of my fear (sort of silly on its face) that Saramago was going to turn the story into a conventional unconventional romance. I still feel concerned about the way the two female characters were brought into the story each to hook up immediately with one of the men -- it seems to diminish their roles as independent characters, when the male characters had a hundred or so pages to develop themselves solo, not as part of a couple. (Also I'm still wondering about Maria Dolores -- why was she brought into the story and given an identity if she was not going to play any role going forward?)

But maybe the romantic pairing is necessary -- it gives me as a reader a familiar element in this very alien story. I like the characters and I'm ok with them getting together. Joaquim is still immature and petulant -- he has not been cured of that by his liaison with Maria Guaivera. And yet I respect him, since he is the one who set this whole pilgrimage in motion.

Something I'm wondering about: When Pedro tells of the stone ship he found at the coast, it reminds Maria of an old story that "saints landed on this coast in ships made of stone, coming from deserts on the other side of the world." Is this a real story? I'm going to try and find out more about it -- Maria references St. James as one of the sailors in question. ...Yes, a real story. says,

Further details about Saint James' late whereabouts were given in the Historia Compostellana [sic] commissioned by Archbishop Diego Gelmirez of Galicia in the 12th century. According to the Historia, after St. James was martyred in the Holy Land his disciples carried his body to Galicia in a ship made of stone. Like St. James, many other Celtic saints such as St. Matthieu or St. Malo in Brittany navigated also across the Atlantic in stone vessels.
(later, the travellers "are following the old route of Santiago," who is St. James, as they move slowly through the villages south of Lugo.)

posted evening of December 20th, 2008: Respond

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

🦋 Together

The Wooster Collective features some art from Peter Fuss of Poland, including this billboard, which reminds me a bit (as so much else is doing these days) of The Stone Raft:
(Seen in context at Fuss's site the message is a bit different.)

posted morning of December 17th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about Pretty Pictures

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

🦋 Pairing off

The only real thing that exists at this moment on earth is our being here together...
I'm lingering around the middle of The Stone Raft a bit. I was a bit surprised at Joana's revelation, and it prompted me to think of the book as pretty strongly feminist in tone; but now, following close on that, she has paired off with José; Maria has been introduced and has paired off with Joaquim, and with that any feminism in the book seems (for now) much more muted, I mean to say it seems like a romance in a more familiar model.

Joachim is self-centered and needy; if the book's aim is to show him growing into a full human being by accepting love from a woman, well, it will still be a very good book but I will be disappointed. (I speculate about how I will feel about the book when I'm done reading it -- obviously I can't know.) A romance can be a very satisfactory read of course. But the first half of this book made it seem like it was going to be much more than that; hopefully Saramago is not headed where I am assuming he is.

posted evening of December 16th, 2008: Respond

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